11-year-old Atreyu Evans making healthy sandwiches. (CCC)

On Sunday, January 29, Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC) hosted a brain wellness event in response to the outsized impact of dementia and a form of Alzheimer’s disease on the African American community.

The effort builds upon the ministry’s years-long address of the disease with caregiver support for congregants, their families, neighbors, and co-workers. What began as a stand of faith through prayer and applied resources of the day, has expanded as greater knowledge about the disease has surfaced.

What we know today is that there are 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, a disease which can develop 20-30 years before symptoms occur and can begin to develop in individuals as young as 20 years of age. Additionally, there are 11.2 million Americans providing unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Two-thirds of them are women.

African Americans are twice as likely as Whites to develop Alzheimer’s; Latinos 1.5 times. One third of Alzheimer’s cases may be preventable by addressing lifestyle factors, and it’s never too early to start.

“This is a horrible disease, and we want to do our part to not only meet people where they are in this journey, but to prevent its occurrence,” says Angela Evans, president of Crenshaw Christian Center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. “We want to be known as the healthy church and aim to equip generations with useful lifestyle tools to drive community change. We invite everyone to make use of the thoughtfully curated resources for their optimal health.”

A formed a partnership with the non-profit Healthy Minds Initiative (HMI) and National Academy of Medicine have enlightened the ministry’s understanding for a measure of control navigating a disease where a loss of control is often the felt sentiment. HMI is an evidence-based program that supports communities on their path to brain health. Founders, and husband and wife, Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, neuroscientist and neurologist respectively, began to investigate how communities could be empowered to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Dr. Ayesha Sherzai serving Spicy Jackfruit Tacos. (CCC)

They looked at how technology could play a role in outreach, habit forming, and intervention, and found that involving the community through the entire process — from investigation, to research, to intervention — empowered people to make significant lifestyle changes.

Dr. Dean Sherzai states, “Ultimately, these changes can significantly reduce diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and dementia.” Both Drs. Sherzai have personal experience with dementia, with each having a grandparent affected and having served as hands-on caregivers.

Dr. Dean Sherzai continues, “growing up with humble means in Pennsylvania, I watched my grandfather eat a donut every day for 40 years. I discovered the long-term health impact in my research, learning that the brain needs healthy fuel to thrive.”

Dr. Ayesha has her own family story, and these realities served as an impetus for their passionate work in this field — starting with the population most disproportionately affected — African Americans. They have done work at Cedars Sinai, they run the brain health clinic at Loma Linda University, and have recently accepted a request to establish a brain health center at Charles Drew University.

The first-time Brain Health Fair at CCC began with a morning worship service address by Drs. Sherzai to impart statistics and ways to counteract realities with lifestyle changes such as beloved food recipe adjustments, exercise, sleep hygiene, stress reduction and more.

Dr. Dean Sherzai presenting during the worship service. (CCC)

After worship service, 589 people of all ages attended the Fair whose aim was to cement health management as a daily imperative. The robust effort, which was held in the Youth Activity Center, also known as the Price Knights’ school gym, included cooking demos of healthy versions of favorite foods: Uncle Michael’s Tableside Guacamole, The Perfect Peach Cobbler by Queen Bee’s Delightful Catering, Dr. Ayesha’s Spicy Jackfruit Tacos, and sandwiches made with whole grain bread, organic almond butter, organic bananas, and organic reduced sugar raspberry preserves by 11-year-old Atreyu Evans.

Free blood pressure screenings were provided by CCC Reception Committee Nurses, giveaways including seeds for starting a home garden, 100 Omron blood pressure monitors, and coffee provided by Tessie Cleveland Community Services Corporation’s (TCCSC) Coffee Truck were popular, as was an exercise obstacle course.

Prizes of 100 Starbucks and Jamba Juice gift cards and more than 100 of Drs. Sherzai books, “The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevention and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age” and “The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution: The Definitive Food and Lifestyle Guide to Preventing Cognitive Decline” were appreciated. Mental health professionals from TCCSC shared information and encouraged patrons to take advantage of free resources. Brain health videos played, and handouts on caregiving, healthy eating for healthy weight, fitness, high blood pressure and hypertension prevention were distributed.

Learn more and download materials at healthymindsinitiative.org/hmi-ccc/. View the worship service, including the Sherzais presentation on the Ever-Increasing Faith Ministries You Tube channel and at faithdome.org.